The chief actuary of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) said in his triennial report that the railroad retirement fund will remain solvent with no cash flow problems for nearly three decades, barring any unforeseen drops in rail worker employment over that time.
The positive forecast led the reviewers to conclude that the RRB payroll tax structure should remain unchanged at present, yet they also warned that future job losses could jeopardize the system in years to come.
“The long-term stability of the system, however, is not assured,” Chief Actuary Frank J. Buzzi and his staff wrote. “Under the current financing structure, actual levels of railroad employment and investment return over the coming years will determine whether additional corrective action is necessary.”
Chief Actuary Frank Buzzi and his staff said in the report, submitted by RRB in mid-June to President Donald Trump, Vice President Michael Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, that cash flow for rail retirement appears stable until 2047.
“The conclusion is that, barring a sudden, unanticipated, large drop in railroad employment of substantial investment losses, the railroad retirement system will experience no cash flow problems during the next 29 years.” Frank Buzzi and his staff wrote.
The review assumed three scenarios for passenger and freight railroad employment from 2017 and the years after and projected the status of the system out to 2091.
Scenario 1 (optimistic): Average railroad employment starts at 223,000, with passenger employment steady at 48,000 workers and a constant annual decline in freight rail employment of 0.5 percent for 25 years at a reducing rate over the next 25 years and then remaining level thereafter.
Scenario 2 (moderate): Average railroad employment starts at 223,000, with passenger employment steady at 48,000 with a constant annual decline in freight rail employment of 2 percent for 25 years, at a reducing rate over the next 25 years, and remain level thereafter.
Scenario 3 (pessimistic): Average railroad employment starts at 223,000, with a decline of 500 workers per year in passenger employment until it stabilizes at 40,000; freight employment would decline at a constant annual rate of 3.5 percent for 25 years, then at a reducing rate over the next 25 years, and remain level thereafter.
Only in the third scenario, with the loss of 122,000 workers over the 29 years, did the railroad retirement system run into cash troubles in 2047.
Held constant in the review were variables such as earnings (3.6 percent), cost-of-living increases (2.6 percent) and investment returns (7 percent). Also kept constant were non-economic factors such as mortality, disability, retirements and withdrawal.
The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) released its annual tax rates, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, for the upcoming 2016 year.
The Tier II tax rates are determined annually from a tax rate schedule based on an average account benefits ratio reflecting railroad retirement fund levels. Employer tax rates can range from 8.2 percent to 22.1 percent. Employee tax rates can range from 0 percent to 4.9 percent.
In October 2015, each employer was sent a notice of their 2015 Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) contribution rate. If you have not received your notice, please contact the Quality Reporting Service Center.
Retirement and Survivor Benefits
Exempt Amounts for Annual Earnings Test for Less Than Full Retirement Age Annuitants: In 2016, the annual exempt amount for less than full retirement age annuitants is $15,720. The monthly exempt amount for the first year of retirement in 2016 is $1,310.
Exempt Amounts for Annual Earnings Test for Full Retirement Age Annuitants: In 2016, the annual exempt amount for full retirement age annuitants is $41,880. The monthly exempt amount for the first year of retirement in 2016 is $3,490.
No cost-of-living Increase: Annuitants will not receive a cost-of-living increase in 2016.
Unemployment and Sickness Benefits
Maximum Daily Benefit Rate: Under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), the maximum daily benefit rate is equal to 5 percent of the monthly RUIA compensation base, rounded down to the nearest multiple of $1.00. For days of unemployment and sickness in registration periods beginning on and after July 1, 2016, the maximum daily rate is $72.00. The maximum rate for registration periods beginning on or after July 1, 2017, is $72.00.
Monthly Compensation Base: The monthly compensation base under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act for calendar year 2016 is $1,455.
Qualifying Base Year Compensation: The amount of base year compensation required in 2016 to qualify for benefits in the benefit year beginning July 1, 2016, is $3,637.50.
Compensation of $3,637.50 is also the amount of creditable compensation required to end a voluntary leaving of work disqualification period in months in calendar year 2016. In addition, remuneration earned in calendar year 2016 from employment covered under the Act cannot be considered subsidiary remuneration if the employee’s base year earnings are less than $3,673.50.
Maximum Benefits: The monthly amount of base year 2016 compensation that can be counted in determining the maximum amount of normal benefits payable to an employee in the benefit year beginning July 1, 2017, is $1,879.
Maximum Monthly Compensation Base and the Earnings Test: For unemployment registration periods beginning July 1, 2017 and later, no benefits are payable for which the total amount of an employee’s earnings and other remuneration from railroad and non-railroad work for days in the period exceeds the monthly compensation amount of $1,455.
The 2016 railroad retirement tax rates and maximum compensation bases are as follows:
Employee Tier I
Employer Tier I
Employee Tier II
Employer Tier II
*Additional Medicare Tax: Employees will pay an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on earnings above $200,000 who file an individual return or $250,000 (for those who file a joint return). This additional Medicare tax rate is not reflected in the tax rates shown above.
Note: Medicare and Tier 1 Railroad Retirement tax rates are equivalent to Social Security tax rates set for 2016. Tier 2 Railroad Retirement tax rates do not apply to employees subject to Social Security.